Here’s something I didn’t know that’s awesome

When Bruce Springsteen toured Australia last year, he needed an extra guitar man because Little Steven couldn’t make the trip.

He tapped Tom Morello, with whom he’d apparently become friends since a performance together in LA in 2008.

Here they are, doing “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (from the Hall of Fame in 2009, not the Aussie tour).

I think it’s safe to say the collaboration works. Play it loud.

(Via this Rolling Stone interview with Morello, which is worth reading for lots of reasons.)

Update

In the “that settles it” department, looks like I’m buying tickets to see Bruce in the Woodlands in May, because Morello is with him for the whole tour owing at least partly to Van Zandt’s shooting schedule on Lilyhammer.

Pete Seeger

Sad news this morning; 94-year-old Pete Seeger, folk giant and national conscience, has passed away.

Don’t miss either his Wikipedia bio or the exhaustive Times obit linked above. Remember, this is a man who told the House Un-American Activities Committee that

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.

They tried to imprison him for that. That’s an American hero, right there.

Five years ago this month, Mrs Heathen and I stood in the cold and wet in Washington at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for the Obama Inaugural Concert. Among our favorite memories of that day is seeing Pete Seeger perform live, leading us in all the verses of “This Land Is Your Land.”

We were part of a very very large, yet very very happy sea of humanity, so my only shot of Seeger is actually a long shot of a jumbotron, but I’ll take it.

Fortunately, YouTube has decent footage of his performance. Take a moment for Mr Seeger (his grandson is part of this ensemble, by the way).

Pete Seeger was married for almost 70 years to Toshi Seeger, an accomplished figure in her own right. Mrs Seeger passed away last July, at the age of 91.

One Toke.

In 1971, somehow, the Lawrence Welk show featured a hokey, square performance of “One Toke Over The Line”; Welk himself referred to it as a “modern spiritual.”

Whiskey. Tango. Foxtrot.

The song is infinitely more famous for having been included in a particularly drug-soaked work of Gonzo journalism as well as the film adaptation (at 2:00 or so). There’s not another meaning for “toke.”

This must be what they meant when they talked about the “generation gap” back then. Still, you have to believe that someone at the Welk office knew just exactly what this song meant, and let the whole process happen as a goof.

“Some art is real.”

Ordinarily, I find Chuck Closterman tedious and irritating. His remembrance of Lou Reed in Grantland, however, is completely fucking spot on.

I love this bit in particular, about Metal Machine Music:

In 1975, Reed released Metal Machine Music, a four-sided 64-minute collection of itchy guitar feedback with no words or melody. In the original liner notes, Reed claimed no one he knew had ever listened to the entire thing, including himself. If you purchased it on vinyl, you eventually realized the fourth side concluded with a “locked groove.” This meant that — if you didn’t manually lift the needle off the record — it would never stop playing (thereby subjecting its listener to an endless, joyless squeal). Basically, he made an album that sounded terrible on purpose and then figured out a way to make it go on forever. It assaulted the people who supported him and exasperated the label that paid him to create it. Now that he’s dead, it’s tempting to argue that the mere existence of Metal Machine Music is cool and subversive, almost as if the only thing that matters was the idea. But it’s not just the idea. It’s not just that Reed thought it would be funny to do this.* It’s not a parody or an urban legend. Metal Machine Music is a real thing. You can hold it. You can drop it on the floor. It’s a tangible document that illustrates the militant fringe of what can be produced with the rudimentary tools of rock and roll, designed by someone who never adequately explained what his original motive was. It’s not merely cool that it exists. It’s amazing that it exists. It’s wonderful, regardless of the notes. And while thousands of lesser mainstream artists could have easily produced an album with similarly unlistenable sounds, only Reed actually did so. Only Reed made this album, sold it to 100,000 people, and moved on to something else entirely.

* Although this was probably part of it.

Lou Reed: Original Heathen

I came to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground late by some standards, but in the pre-Internet era of the 1980s in South Mississippi, it’s sort of amazing I ever found him at all. My first exposure was via the Jane’s Addiction cover of “Rock and Roll“, which I heard at a party I probably shouldn’t have been at in a “student ghetto” house behind a USM dorm that’s not there anymore (Elam, for any EagleHeathen).

Anyway, the song started, and someone said “you know, there aren’t that many Velvet Underground covers, and there are even fewer good ones.” I didn’t get the reference until a year or so later, when I met my friend John Smith.

That’s not a pseudonym. John was born with a name that would, 20 years later, make him completely un-Google-able but for his brief moment of fame. He came to UA with much better music taste than I’d been able to assemble in Hattiesburg, so it was through John that I first really explored some of the artists who would become ubiquitous for the rest of my life: Dylan, Alex Chilton and Big Star, and most of all Lou and the Velvet Underground.

John and I hit it off pretty quickly, and the music was always a fixture in his smokey dorm room. Loaded hit the turntable, and there, suddenly, was the punch line to the joke set up so many months before behind Elam Arms. The Janes’ version was a reasonable cover, but here was the ur-text, a fully formed protopunk song recorded before I was even born. The penny drops for some of us when we first hear the Velvet Underground; if you’re at all aware of the trends of popular and alternative music since the 1970s, you have no doubt at all that what Brian Eno said is true: not that many people bought Velvet Underground records, but damn near every single one of them started a band. It’s no exaggeration to say that, without Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, modern music would be unrecognizably different.

I was sitting on the ground, outside the “security bubble” of the Marine Corps Marathon finish area on Sunday when I got the news. Lou Reed had died on Sunday, in Long Island. He was 71 years old, which is a hell of a lot longer than I suspect he thought he’d live. I am not one given to grief over celebrities, but I am not too proud to say this hit me hard, harder even than MCA last year. I blinked through tears to read the quickie Rolling Stone obit, and was amazed to see his hometown paper was caught flat-footed; it took the Times almost a full day to deploy the sort of exhaustive obituary for which they’re rightly famous. Someone said “gosh, we’re really gonna lose it when Dylan dies,” and I realized that Reed meant and means more to me than Dylan ever has. I’m having a hard time coming up with many other musicians whose artistic footprint figures as much into my own life as Reed, and it’s a short list indeed — filled mostly, no doubt, with folks who stood on Reed’s shoulders. (Tom Waits will live forever AND I WILL BROOK NO DISSENT.)

The tributes and memories flooded my Twitter feed for much of the next day. Why, of course Neil Gaiman was a fan, and of course he interviewed him years ago, as a working journalist. As it turns out, Sasha Frere-Jones used Reed’s music to propose marriage. Josh Marshall was a fan, too. By Monday, VU bandmate John Cale had weighed in:

“The news I feared the most, pales in comparison to the lump in my throat and the hollow in my stomach,” Cale wrote in a statement. “Two kids have a chance meeting and 47 years later we fight and love the same way – losing either one is incomprehensible. No replacement value, no digital or virtual fill . . . broken now, for all time. Unlike so many with similar stories – we have the best of our fury laid out on vinyl, for the world to catch a glimpse. The laughs we shared just a few weeks ago, will forever remind me of all that was good between us.”

There are only four Velvet Underground albums: 1967′s Velvet Underground & Nico, the blistering followup White Light/White Heat a year later, the self-titled Velvet Underground from 1969, and finally Loaded in 1970. None are long, and all cast long shadows (all 4 rate Rolling Stone’s list of Top 500 Rock Albums). In those four brief records there’s enough gold for a hundred lesser careers — and Lou wasn’t done when he left the Velvet Underground.

In his solo work, he never stopped experimenting — indeed, it’s not unfair to say his solo career embodies the idea that, if you never fail, you’re not trying hard enough. Most of it, aside from the radio hit that included Neil Gaiman’s daughter’s namesake, is less accessible than the VU work, but that doesn’t mean bad. Transformer is an amazing rock and roll record (and includes the aforementioned “Wild Side”). His 1973 effort Berlin is the standard by which soul-crushingly sad albums are judged. Street Hassle‘s title track is a 3-movement poem about down-and-out life in New York, and believe it or not has aged reasonably well. 1989′s New York put him back on the radio, and a year later he reunited with VU partner John Cale to memorialize Andy Warhol with Songs for Drella, which met with broad praise.

There’s little else I can say on the subject not said better elsewhere, so I’ll close this down and apologize for a disjointed entry. Follow a link or two if you’re unfamiliar. Dive deeper if you are. In closing, here’s John Cale performing an on-topic poem with music by Brian Eno:

Nile Rodgers’ Bad Day, and A Surprising Source for Great In-Depth Music Conversations

Via this MeFi thread ostensibly about Rodgers accidentally losing, and then (amazingly) recovering his treasured ’59 Strat on a train, we discover this great long and wide-ranging interview with Rodgers, which is part of the shockingly cool Red Bull Music Academy Lectures.

(In the unlikely event you’re a Heathen reader and yet still do not know who Rodgers is: he’s a goddamn giant, and has been a huge influence on popular music since the 1970s. Most famously, he’s one half of the “core” of the band Chic, but he’s also a producer of great renown — for Diana Ross, Debbie Harry, David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Bryan Ferry, B-52s, and, most recently, for Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories.)

Pick up on it.

Arcade Fire, Again

Three years ago, we were blown away by Arcade Fire’s amazing HTML5 experimental “video” for The Wilderness Downtown. You may recall it involved superimposing their video plot on your own hometown, via Google Maps and Google Earth, which sounds way less impressive than it actually was (and is).

Apparently, innovative online content is a core value for Arcade Fire, because what they’re doing with Reflektor is something else again; using your smartphone as a controller, you can affect the video as it plays, but that’s a super-reductive way to describe what’s going on here. Here’s a behind the scenes bit that helps explain what’s happening here. (Now, as then, you need Chrome for this to work.)

The record drops 10/28. Mark your calendars.

It’s Prince’s Birthday

In his honor, take time for at least one of these two amazing vids. Both have been on Heathen before, but they’re both worth a re-look.

First: The short one: this version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps is from the all-star tribute to George Harrison on VH1 some years ago. Prince handles the solo duties like the incredible player and amazing showman he’s always been. My favorite part: at the end, when he’s done, he throws his guitar up and struts off the stage.

The guitar never comes down.

Second: I found this a while back on Metafilter. It’s a story covering this video (note: not the link from the Hilobrow story; that one’s been DCMA’d off the net) of Prince and his band from the early 80s. He’s much younger; Wendy and Lisa are with him, and he’s not quite yet the superstar he’d become. That process starts with this performance, because it’s the very first time anyone ever heard Purple Rain.

It’s long. Make time. It’s the man’s birthday, for crying out loud.

Dept. of Whoa.

This 14-year-old girl plays the everliving FUCK out of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.”

This should give new meaning to “plays like a girl.”

Also, it’s good to see that kids today still appreciate the classics. Had I as a 14-year-old tried to learn a piece of music of similar age, by the way, I’d have been kinda out of luck, since 1948 was basically a musical wasteland — rock and roll was years away, and musically interesting rock-specific guitar playing even farther.

It’s odd to consider now, but the middle 1970s were still pretty early in the development of modern popular music — Elvis’ commercial breakout was only 20 years before. If we consider 1957 as the first year of rock-and-roll hegemony on the charts (which may or may not be defensible for more than a blog post), then a Van Halen fan in 1977 has just 20 years of rock to draw from. Plus, the evolution of the form was so dramatic that few folks enjoyed both the hits of the late 1950s and the kind of post-Beatles, post-Hendrix, post-Zeppelin music that came in the next decade.

In 2013, we’re closing in on having SIXTY years of rock and roll to choose from, and even if we dismiss the first decade of essentially playful bits and start at 1967 instead, we have a half century. That’s a big buffet, and it makes it more remarkable that this kid found that first Van Halen record. (I suspect good parenting.)

Steve Martin and Edie Brickell have a new record coming out.

You read that right.

Rolling Stone has a little video promo about it that you should watch.

By this point, it should come as no surprise that Martin has a serious music career — he has, after all, won a Grammy for music in addition to the one he got for comedy. However, if you, like me, haven’t seen a picture of Mrs Paul Simon since the 1980s, it may surprise you how little she’s changed. I suspect a portrait in the attic.

Also, it appears this record had its genesis in a dinner party, which suggests there are dinner parties happening that include Paul Simon, Edie Brickell, and Steve Martin. Which is AWESOME.

The record, entitled “Love Has Come For You,” will be released on April 23rd. Mark your calendars.

You know her voice.

Merry Clayton has a voice that will melt steel. You probably don’t know her name, but you know her astonishing backing vocal on Gimme Shelter.

What you also don’t know is that, after the sessions for that record, she miscarried. The Stones were distraught, and gave her a portion of the song royalties. She also recorded her own version, which I strongly recommend you go listen to.

Merry Christmas

February 20 or 21, 1981. The 688 Club in Atlanta, Georgia. R. E. M., opening for Joe “King” Carrasco.

Stipe is a month past his 21st birthday in this footage; Berry, Buck, and Mills aren’t a bunch older. Almost 32 years ago. Sweet Christ.